When groups of ideas are labelled, these labels can (and usually do) take on a life of their own. They change, mutate and often become so completely divorced from their original context that they are almost meaningless.
These labels, though seemingly meaningless, retain a great deal of rhetorical power, but rhetorical power of the "bash over the head" type, not the Oxford Debating Society type.
Such it is with fascism.
Fascism, or to call someone a fascist, has basically mutated into a term for anything or anybody that you hate or disagree with. It is a term that has such power while at the same time being so wildly understood as to be contradictory at best and laughable at worst.
I have personal experience with this. In teaching the history of Modern Europe, I lectured on the rise of fascism in Europe in the 1920's and 1930's. One of my express missions in doing so was to let the students know that this term refers to a specific group of political, economic and social policies that emerged from a specific place at a specific time.
I tried to impress upon them that fascism can be defined, but that these definitions are not, well, definite. To put it another way, it is hard to say which "fascist" regime in Europe was the archetype, the quintissential fascist polity and society.
The Rise of Fascism in Europe
Flip through the slides of this presentation, done for my History 120 class. I think it will provide definitions of fascism, examples of fascist regimes and some conclusions. This presentation on the rise of the Nazis in Germany might also be of interest.
- "Fascist" as an epithet has, as terms often do, become completely divorced from its original meaning. It simply means, "someone I don't agree with" now.
- There were several other regimes, like Franco's in Spain, that had the trappings of fascism, and were certainly authoritarian, but were not really fascist. Particularly notable here are Estado Novo in Portugal, the Fourth of August regime in Greece and the Iron Guard in Romania.
- What was the closest regime to a "purely" fascist one? I would say Mussolini's Italy. Feel free to debate me on this one.